”Oh, yes, yes! Right there. That feels wonderful. Don’t stop. Harder. Do it harder. Ahh, like that. Just like that. Amazing hands. Heaven. I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
Well, no, Skye Deveaux mused silently. Spa Paradis wasn’t exactly heaven, though it had certainly become her own private refuge. She supposed that was close enough to count in the grand scheme of her personal coming to grips with the sweet hereafter and the Deveaux family legend.
It was the not-so-sweet here and now, however, giving her an insane headache.
She shut her eyes, canted her head to the left and continued to read her client’s thoughts, working the pumicelike surface of her favorite massage stone over the soles of the woman’s feet. The warm water bubbled around Skye’s wrists, infusing her skin and the foamy froth with the scents of citrus, cloves and sage.
Her ability to read minds had never been a secret within her family, though she kept it from most everyone else. That very same gift had made her, at age twenty-four, one of Houston’s most requested nail technicians, putting Spa Paradis on the Texas Gulf Coast map.
Her appointment book was filled for the next two months; it could easily have been filled for a year. But Maeve Fields, the resort’s owner and Skye’s dearest friend, refused to schedule her further than sixty days in advance. Maeve had learned her lesson after attempting to make Spa Paradis coed and now protected her most valuable asset.
At the decision to begin offering services to men, Skye had threatened to walk. Maeve, of course, had thought Skye insane. What woman in her right mind wouldn’t want to get her hands on the new wave of hunky gorgeous metrosexual guys who were as into skin care as their female contemporaries?
Uh-uh, Skye had argued. No way. She refused to be a part of any changes to the spa’s operation should said changes possibly alienate, cause discomfort or result in embarrassment to any member of their all-female clientele. At least that was the argument she’d offered.
The truth was that Skye wanted nothing to do with the opposite sex. Sad, but true, she mused, moving from Mrs. Waters’s left foot to her right.
Skye supposed this meant she would live out the rest of her days as a spinster, tending to the needs of other women instead of lying back on a divan with nubile boy toys at her constant beck and call - a fantasy she was totally down with. Oh, but let her count the ways she loved men. She drooled over tight abs, broad shoulders and really fine butts. Adored huge strong hands and long fingers. Melted at the smiles that reached long-lashed, sparkling eyes to reveal cute little laugh lines.
But their minds freaking sucked!
She reached for a fluffy white towel from the warming tray at her station and flipped the switch to shut off the hydro-jets pulsing into the foot bath. Mrs. Waters sighed, reluctantly allowing her calves, ankles, soles and toes to be patted dry before hygienic paper slippers were placed over her feet. One of the spa’s attendants assisted and led the client from the room, allowing Skye to put her space back to rights.
And the one thing she took care of before any of the cleaning and disinfecting so vital to her clients’ health was to remove the massage stone from the water and clasp it firmly with both hands. Eyes closed, she allowed the inherent warmth and soothing aura to calm her.
Weird, yes, but when holding the strangely squared-off chunk of stone, its edges worn by time, its surface smoothed by water, her mind was completely clear of all thoughts but her own. That reality had begun for her at a very early age, the truth of her skills growing more obvious with the passage of time.
In fact, her abilities were the reason she had little contact with her family these days - though she’d never had much contact with them at all apart from a few summers spent at Uncle Harold’s in Perry’s Cove. Try knowing when one cousin was lying to another, or getting any of them to understand the way that family gatherings caused her head to hurt more than at any other time.
She had spent much of her time alone as a child, her family fearing she would read and reveal their most private thoughts. She learned many things she knew she hadn’t been meant to know; she’d been too young to understand half of what she’d gleaned. Especially Uncle Harold’s nervous concern when he thought about the family legend that would impact the lives of her and her cousins.
It was a responsibility for which she hadn’t been ready. She wasn’t sure she was ready for it now, though her powers said otherwise. It had to be the conflict of knowing that the four cousins together - the four cousins alone - controlled their great-grandparents’ fate causing the overload in her abilities.
That, and the recent phone call from Celeste, who had recently discovered
her ability to communicate with the dead, telling of their great-grandmother’s
recent warning that the longer the stone remained divided, the more its power waned.... At times, Skye swore she was on the verge of shorting out.
“Hey, Skye, can you do me a monstrously huge favor? I swear I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t so desperate.”
Maeve was always desperate, Skye mused, with no small amount of humor, wondering what the other woman would say tonight should her corporate hotshot boyfriend, David, actually propose as free-spirited and gypsy-wild Maeve feared. Skye secured her massage stone in its protective case and locked the bottom drawer of her supply cabinet.
Swiveling on her stool, she faced her boss-cum-best girlfriend. “Yes, I will stay and close up after the computer technician upgrades the billing software. But only if you promise me you won’t tell David no right away. At least assure him that you’ll think about giving marriage a try.”
Maeve blinked. Long lashes swept up and down repeatedly over her cognac-gold eyes. “I can’t stand it when you do that. Could you at least pretend you don’t know everything going on in my head? I prefer the illusion that there is more up there than the air that, as strange as it sounds, really keeps me from hyperventilating when I think about David proposing.”
This time it was Skye’s turn to blink. Causing Maeve to frown. Which in turn gave Skye a headache to rival old-home week with Rory, Celeste and Eve. “I only know what’s going on in your head when the thought is active. Like wondering now if you should really wear that black-fringed flapper dress.”
“What do you think?”
Skye didn’t give a hairy fig about the flapper dress. She was still back on the prior thought that had flitted through Maeve’s mind as she’d reminded herself to write out a check for the computer tech before she left. Unfortunately, the name on the check wasn’t that of the spa’s usual computer tech, Lee Britton.
It was, instead, that of the same independent contractor Lee had sent out six months before to cover one of his calls. “Maeve? What happened to Lee?”
Maeve blushed. “I don’t know, really. A scheduling snafu or something. He got tied up at the last minute and called, uh, Nic to cover for him.”
Skye glared. “I think you must have forgotten my history with Nicolas Kane or you would’ve remembered to mention that he was the computer tech you were sticking me with.”
This time when Maeve considered Nicolas, her thoughts came one on top of the next. Skye felt as if she were lying in a fast-food playground pit while colored balls rained down in a painful barrage of hard plastic. Lights of red, blue, green and yellow flashed in starbursts behind her closed eyes. “Stop. Stop. Please. I don’t need that vivid a reminder of the man. I can picture him quite well in my own head, thanks much.”
“Oh, Skye, please don’t tell David,” Maeve begged, now trying to hide the fact that she was mentally undressing the very sexy computer tech one stitch of clothing at a time.
“I dunno, Maeve.” Struggling not to laugh, Skye tilted her head and regarded her boss as seriously as she could manage. “David just might be into threesomes.”
Maeve gasped. Her face reddened. “I was not thinking about threesomes.”
“You are now,” Skye replied, then chortled, waving one hand while she worked to recover her breath. “Maeve, c’mon. You’d be less than human - no, less than woman - if you didn’t enjoy looking at other men. Doesn’t mean you have to touch. Unless, like I said, David’s got a kinky side he’s keeping secret until after the honeymoon.”
Maeve looked down, doing a fairly good job of concentrating on nothing but retying the scarf she wore like a belt at her waist. “I don’t know why you’re so dead set against getting something going with Nic, anyway. It’s obvious from last time the two of you have chemistry out the wazoo.”
Oh, that one was simple, Skye mentally huffed. Men’s thoughts sucked. If they weren’t thinking about sex while trying to get into a girl’s pants, they were thinking about work while trying to get into a girl’s pants. Or thinking about sports while trying to get into a girl’s pants. Thing was, they never thought about the girl. It was always her pants.
The only thing worse than knowing what they were thinking was not knowing what they were thinking.
And Nicolas Kane was the only man whose mind Skye had never been able to read.
The single best part of working as an independent contractor, Nic Kane decided, pulling his custom-outfitted cargo van to a stop as the light changed from yellow to red, was everything. There wasn’t a part of the life he hated.
He couldn’t even complain about having to provide his own insurance coverage or set up his own IRA. Working for the man toward a retirement package that might not even suit when he reached there, or working for himself and living his life his way from here to there? Hell, it wasn’t even a choice.
Hmm. Then again there was one drawback, he admitted, turning to the left at the change of the light. Women. They wanted stability and security and thought it only came somewhere between nine and five and in a corner office. Most women, anyway.
Except, perhaps, for Skye Deveaux.
He hit the drive up into the parking lot behind Spa Paradis harder than he’d intended, punishing the van’s new suspension when he’d promised himself this time to take it easy on the old girl.
They didn’t make ’em like this anymore, which was a big problem when it came to finding parts. The ’67 Dodge had served him well now for six years but wasn’t going to hold out forever. He’d already marked the funds from the Spa Paradis upgrade for the tune-up now due.
That was the other problem with women. Not too many understood the labor of love - read: time and money - he put into the van’s upkeep, and he’d yet to meet one who was down with the idea of being picked up for a night out in the old girl.
Again, except for Skye Deveaux.
She’d had no problem with his van. It had been her discovery of the freshly made bed in the back that had done him in.
Climbing down from the cab, he slammed the door and headed around to the rear to flip through the van’s built-in CD drawers for the Spa Paradis software disks he’d need.
He wondered if Skye was working late. He wondered how she would feel about seeing him again. He wondered why she hadn’t even given him a chance to explain that, as appealing as the idea of sleeping with her was, he’d been on his way to trout fish the Guadalupe River and the van was a self-contained camper.
She hadn’t given him a chance to say so much as good-night before she’d bailed and bolted. He’d heard the front door of her Rice Village cottage slam before he’d even thought to put the van into Park.
Skye Deveaux was a firecracker, with big brown eyes and bouncy blond curls - a combination that gave him more of a buzz than caffeine. Hell, yeah, he’d like to sleep with her. He was a guy, and she was hot in so many ways.
But he wasn’t a creep. And he really thought that if she’d give him a chance, a true, honest-to-God chance, instead of pinning him with other guys’ motives, she’d see the truth.
At least that’s what he was hoping would happen, the reason he was hoping she’d be here.
* * *
Skye truly needed to come up with a painless and legal method to do away with Maeve.
The other woman was no longer imaginatively casting Nic in a threesome. Oh, no. Now she was choreographing an intimate kick-ball-change step as she stood to the side of the main computer station in her office, where Nic had made himself at home.
Unfortunately, the dance Maeve was thinking about was more of an ooh-ahh-yes, involving body parts other than feet belonging to Nic and to Skye, ahem, who did not have implants, thanks much.
Standing in the office doorway behind the receptionist’s station, she cleared her throat when what she really wanted to do was growl. “Sorry to burst your bubble, Maeve, but they’re real.”
“Oh, Skye.” Dark blotches of color rose up Maeve’s high cheekbones. “I didn’t see you there.”
“Obviously.” Skye walked into the office, catching only a short glance from Nic as he opened a black portfolio filled with CDs and manuals. She focused, zoomed in, tuned out...nothing. Not a single peep from the man’s mind.
Maeve, on the other hand, was throwing a mental blanket over Nic’s and Skye’s naked bodies.
“How long do you think this will take?” Skye asked of either one of them, adding for Maeve’s benefit, “I’m allergic to wool, by the way.”
Maeve tossed the pencil she’d been twirling in one hand to the desk and reached for her red velvet hobo bag. “I’ve suffered enough mental abuse for the day. Now I’m off for an evening of emotional angst. Nic said he’ll be done in an hour.”
“Two at the most,” he added, finally speaking, his voice a deep seductive memory tingling at the base of Skye’s skull.
He looked up then, meeting her gaze head-on. Or at least meeting her gaze once his made it to her face, having started where she gripped the back of the office’s visitor’s chair and sliding slowly up her bare arms to the hollow of her throat and the beating pulse of her telltale heart.
It didn’t matter how long it took him to snag her gaze. The impact would’ve been the same whether it took him five seconds to get there or ten. His eyes were the green of a spring morning bursting beneath the sun, his hair the brown of fertile earth. She dug her fingers even harder into the back of the chair and held on.
Oh, but it was hard to breathe when she saw all the things she knew he must be thinking but hadn’t a clue whether or not he was. She wasn’t used to anticipation, to heat.
She was used to knowing, to boredom. To turning and walking out the door. Leaving was easy when no surprises were left to be had. And staying...
Staying put her out of her element, gave Nic an advantage she was so very afraid that he’d take. She was only slightly more afraid that he wouldn’t.
And that she’d regret that loss for the rest of her life.
“ Don’t forget to set the alarm,” Maeve called as she left, the front-door chimes finally quieting until the only sounds in the office were those of the computer hard drive as Nic did a system check.
He’d moved his attention back to the screen, and Skye had started to pace.
God, was this what other women went through, not knowing what a guy was thinking, having to wonder and guess and act as though not being certain didn’t drive them insane?
“You can sit. I swear I’ll stay on this side of the desk.”
That voice again. Silky and deep, working its way under her skin, like the feel of skilled fingertips hitting that muscle beneath her shoulder blade that ached so at the end of the day.
She circled the chair and sat. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to hurry you along.”
He chuckled at that, glanced her way again from beneath the dark sexy slash of an eyebrow. “Hot date tonight?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but no. I don’t have a date tonight.” Hot or otherwise. Though now she couldn’t help but wonder if he did. If he wanted to get done, get out and get on with his fun.
Exactly what he should do. Exactly what she wanted him to do.
Arms crossed, she moved her gaze from his profile as he stared at the screen to his one hand that completely enveloped the mouse, trying not to recall how deftly he’d managed both the steering wheel and stick shift the night he’d taken her to dinner....
“You’re right,” he said, returning her thoughts to the present. And then he rubbed his free hand over the back of his neck. She almost felt the massaging pressure on her own. “It’s not my business, though no harm, no foul for asking, right?”
She blew out an exasperated breath for his benefit when the exhalation was more about regaining her steady footing. She wondered what Celeste - who worked as a psychic, even if she wasn’t - would read should she look into Nic’s palm. He had the most incredible hands.
“Hey,” he finally said, responding to her huff. “I thought if you did, it would be a good time to help out my fellow man.”
“Your fellow man?” He had her attention again, and she intuitively knew she wouldn’t like his response.
“Sure.” He fought back a laugh. “Don’t want some other poor schmuck to show up to get you with his camping gear in tow.”
Even after he’d spoken, it took him a long strange moment to move his attention from the monitor to her face, a long strange moment during which she tried to make sense of what he’d just said.
She was so used to relying on her abilities, she wasn’t even sure she knew how to figure out what Nic meant with only his words to go by. Unless he’d actually meant what he’d said.
And so she simply lifted a brow and asked, “Camping gear?”
He nodded, a slow lazy lopsided grin that lifted the left corner of his mouth. He swiveled the chair so that he faced her directly, as if the eye-to-eye contact guaranteed her full attention.
He’d had her full attention now for months, since Maeve hired him to install the spa’s new billing software and Skye had realized she couldn’t hear a thing in his head.
She wanted to know why.
“The back of the van. It’s all modular. Outfitted with tracks on the side panels and the floor.”
She blinked, certain she wasn’t going to be too thrilled with the rest of his explanation. A feeling that intensified into an annoying sort of itchy rashlike sensation as Nic went on.
His grin widened. “When I’m working, I build out the cargo space with the tools of the trade. Come the weekend, I slide out the chests of computer equipment and slide in the camping gear. Grill. Minifridge. Lanterns, tackle. The bed.”
“That’s right.” He winked. He actually winked. “You did see the bed, didn’t you?”
She wanted to look away from the accusation in his gaze - or what she assumed was an accusation - but he had her, and she deserved to be had.
“I didn’t know the bed was for camping. How could I have known that?” Duh, since I couldn’t read your mind?
“Oh, I dunno.” Nic leaned back, swiveled to the right, swiveled to the left. Stopped. Didn’t move a muscle but for the ones it took to speak. “You could’ve asked. Or waited around for me to explain.”
She watched the tic of the pulse in his temple. Watched the flare of desire in his eyes. See? He may not have intended for their first date to end up in that bed, but she knew he wouldn’t have minded if it had.
Except he wasn’t a typical man. He wasn’t blaming her for their date ending badly, though her overreaction - her unwarranted overreaction - had been the fault. No. He was doing no more than stating the obvious. Telling her what she should’ve taken the time to ask him that night.
She owed him an apology, though giving one wasn’t going to be so simple. This time she crossed one leg over the other and set her foot to swinging.
“Here’s the thing, Nic,” she said as he went back to the computer, loading a software disk though his sideways glance beneath a raised brow told her he was waiting. “Guys come on to me. A lot. It’s why I don’t date much. I can’t trust that it’s not going to happen. It always does.”
“And that makes your dating experience different from other women how?”
It was that lack of anticipation, that knowing what was going to happen that always ruined the possibility for any sort of good time. But she couldn’t tell him that.
What she told him was “I’m not like most women.”
This time his smile was even slower in coming. Slower, but worth the wait. It was a smile of dark thoughts, the very thoughts she was unable to read, and it caused a tightening in her body, a sizzling sort of burn that made her wonder what would have happened had she not bolted at the sight of his bed.
“No, Skye. You’re not. I don’t date most women,” he said, his voice a deep caress.
She was in so much trouble here. So very much trouble. “No,” she began, her heart pounding as if seeking a rhythm that made sense. “You just take them camping.”
He shook his head. His crazy-long lashes drifted down, then up; the sparkling green of his eyes nearly blinded her. “I haven’t taken a woman camping in a very long time. Not since I met you.”
It wasn’t an admission Nic would’ve made sitting at the bar in Haydon’s Half Time, or when watching the Astros play baseball with one of his oil-company clients from the firm’s club-level seats at Minute Maid Park.
But sitting here in the office at Spa Paradis across the desk from Skye Deveaux, listening to piped-in New Age music and the tinkle of wind chimes, drawing in the scents of herbs and flowers and fruits every time he took a breath...yeah, it didn’t hurt too much to say it.
Until she wet her lower lip with the barest tip of her tongue, caught the corner of it between her teeth.
That was when he decided it might not’ve been such a good idea after all. Right before he groaned.
“I thought men enjoyed camping on a, uh, pretty regular basis,” she finally said, sounding as if there was a whole lot more she wanted to say caught in the back of her throat.
“Yeah, well. We do. It’s just that camping solo is a hell of a lot less hassle at times.” Just the conversation he wanted to be having with the woman he most wanted to bed. She already thought him some sort of campground perv.
“Hmm. That’s interesting.” Lips pursed thoughtfully, she leaned forward, lacing her fingers around the knee she’d crossed demurely over her other one. “I assumed all men liked help getting a fire started in their, uh, grill. You know, to cook. Dinner.”
He loved her curiosity, adored the way she stumbled over it. He also had to admit the subject wasn’t quite so awkward since she hadn’t looked at him as if he was a whack job and backed away.
“Fire’s good. A lot of women, though, have trouble managing the briquettes. Not to mention the lighter fluid,” he added, because not all the color brightening her cheeks was embarrassment. If it had been, her eyes wouldn’t have burned so bright, nor the hollow of her throat grown so damp.
If he read her right, Skye Deveaux was getting turned on. Which suddenly gave promise to the rest of the night and their shared lack of plans.
“I suppose camping might be too...primitive for a lot of women to truly enjoy. The ones who come here, for example,” she said, pushing to her feet and confusing the hell of out him. Were they or were they not talking about sex? “Most of our clients are more the sort to enjoy being pampered.”
He watched her return to walking back and forth across the room’s plush olive carpeting, watched her flushed skin pale. Goodbye to good times, he mused wryly, figuring he deserved the letdown for being enough of a sap to get his hopes up in the first place.
“So, Skye,” he finally said into the silence left by her pacing. “Since I don’t have camping plans this weekend, you want to grab dinner when I’m done here?”
She stopped pacing, stood behind the chair as she had when she’d first come into the office. Her short, bare fingernails whitened as she gripped the chair back again. “Are you sure you want to?”
“I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t,” he replied, wondering what fueled her uncertainty and if this was her response to all men. “Twenty minutes and I’m done here.”
“Okay, then,” she said, though she didn’t seem all that excited over the prospect. Pushing away bouncy curls that had fallen over her forehead, she fluttered one hand and backed toward the door. “Let me get my things together. I’ll wait in the lobby.”
“Skye?” He stopped her before she got too far away. “Be thinking of where you’d like to go. And then you take your car, and I’ll follow in the van.”
* * *
Skye hurried from the office to her station, checking that she’d stored all her supplies before she tucked the personal belongings she’d used during the day down into her clutch. Five seconds later, she got a glimpse of herself in the mirror that hung on the stucco column separating her work area from the next and careered to a halt.
She looked like a banana-haired Raggedy Ann who didn’t know the meaning of concealer. And not only had Nic asked her to dinner, they’d carried on a conversation that she was certain hadn’t been about camping at all with her looking like this.
Was the man blind?
If not blind, then definitely insane. She might not be the brightest bulb on the porch when it came to the workings of relationships, but she knew men. Men loved sex. Men were all about sex. Men thought about sex every thirteen seconds, or so reported the last survey she’d read. Not that she’d needed the survey to tell her that.
And she was supposed to believe that Nicolas Kane had not slept with a woman since their disastrous night out six months before?
What was wrong with this picture?
Hearing the shut-down music as he rebooted Maeve’s computer, Skye hurriedly rifled through the items she’d just returned to her clutch and made a hasty repair to her appearance. Her short denim skirt staved off eight hours’ worth of wrinkles, and the olive-and-grape smock she wore during the day protected the silk of her bubblegum-pink tank.
She had a pair of tan leather slides in her backseat. A decent enough outfit for Taco Milagro or Mission Burrito, as she suddenly had a craving for hot and spicy food to go with her hot and spicy man. Except he wasn’t her man. No matter that from what he’d said, he seemed to be saving himself for her.
If his actions made sense, she’d be flattered. But nothing of what she knew of men meshed with what she obviously didn’t know of Nic. She’d relied for so long on the safe harbor offered by her mind-reading abilities that being thrust into the unknown was not the adventure she’d often thought it might be.
Then again, perhaps the night ahead might be the first step.
Feeling marginally more herself, encouraged and hopeful to boot, Skye headed to the receptionist’s station. Nic walked out of the office behind just as she arrived. She gestured him toward the door as she launched the security system’s software program and ran the series of codes that would lock down the spa till morning.
As the computer processed her commands, she glanced toward the door where Nic waited, feeling the sizzle of his gaze go to work on her bones. She was melting, melting, and if not for the receptionist’s chair at her knees would have fallen in a puddle to the floor.
She could do this, she thought. Step out into the wild unknown, free-fall without her safety net. Enjoy the anticipation of risking her heart. Of taking her first true chance with a man.
And, oh, what a man. Broad shoulders and big hands and thighs that were beautifully, proportionately thick beneath the soft-looking denim he wore. Her fingers itched to test the dark fuzz of his evening beard, to free the waves of his hair caught by the collar of his navy polo.
She offered him the brightest smile allowed by the silly case of nerves swirling through the puddle she’d become.
“Let’s go,” she said and picked up her clutch.
Nic pushed on the door. Nothing happened. He glanced back at her from beneath a sharply arched brow. “I’m there. Or I’d be there if I could get out.”
“Well, crap.” Skye headed back around the chest-high receptionist
station and rekeyed the security code. A new security system had been installed
recently, but it wasn’t as though she hadn’t entered the codes
a dozen or so times since then.
“ Try it now.”
He tried it. “Nope. Nothing.” And then he turned his wicked grin her way. “Looks like we’ll be doing our camping out in here tonight.”
“Yes. All right. No, I understand. Thank you.” Skye slammed down the receiver, picked it up and dialed a second time.
“What now?” Nic asked, leaning his forearms against the cool marble surface topping the receptionist’s station. Skye’s cheeks were bright red with what he assumed was the same aggravation that had her attacking the phone.
“I’ve got to find Maeve.” Phone to her ear, Skye waited and waited and waited, slamming it back into the cradle, obviously unanswered, with a loudly growled, “Argh!”
Obviously Maeve wasn’t wanting to be found. “So? What did the security company say?”
“I hate incompetence.” Skye hid her expression by rubbing her forehead with the fingertips of both hands. “And I’m going to kill Maeve.”
Now he wasn’t sure if she was complaining about the security company or her boss. “I’m in no big hurry here, but it would be great if you’d fill me in on what’s going on.”
She dropped her hands from her forehead to the desktop, looking down instead of at him - his first clue that she wasn’t happy with what she had to say. “When you rebooted the system, it threw the new security program offline. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except that the company can only give the coded password to names approved by the administrator.”
“Who was supposed to fill out the paperwork and add two names as backup,” Skye said, breathing deeply before dropping down into the receptionist’s chair.
“And you can’t reach her.”
Skye shook her head. “She’s out tonight with her boyfriend and obviously felt no need to keep her cell turned on.”
Nic tried to muster up sympathy when he couldn’t find a drop. Having dinner out with Skye would’ve been a great way to spend the evening. But being locked inside the spa, the two of them alone, until she was able to get in touch with Maeve? “So, we’re stuck?”
“Hmm.” Slow and easy, bud. Take it slow and easy. “Okay then. You have a deck of cards? A Monopoly board? Scrabble?” When she gave in to a grin, he added, “Tic-tac-toe?”
“Not a one. All we have are whirlpools, saunas, soaking basins, paraffin, henna, adobe mud-clay and a flat-screen TV.” She brought her head up, met his gaze and held it for several long seconds as if taking his measure before taking a chance. “You want a tour?”
He nodded, his voice lost somewhere in the back of his throat. What he wanted could be spelled out with three letters if he were being honest, four if he were being earthy and raw. “You could show me what you do at least.”
A soft smile gave her a near ethereal look, putting a sparkle in her eye that he couldn’t describe in any way other than cute. “You’re interested in what I do?”
“Sure.” He was interested in how she kissed, how she touched, how hot her skin grew when she was aroused.
“I’ll try Maeve again in a few minutes.” She moved out from behind the barrier of the receptionist’s station and gestured for him to follow her from the lobby into the spa. “But, if you’d like, I could give you a pedi-massage.”
He’d like if it involved getting naked. “Pedi-massage? Does that have anything to do with camping?”
She laughed, glancing back and slowing her steps until he walked at her side. Walked close enough, in fact, that he could reach out and snag her fingers with his. So he did. And she let him, squeezing slightly and raising his hopes that she might actually be willing to give him a second chance.
He liked this woman. Liked her a lot. She’d caught his attention months ago - obviously, or he wouldn’t have taken her out. Her sense of humor was genuine, her sense of self, strong. She knew what she wanted, knew what turned her off. And knew exactly how to rev his motor to an RPM he’d rarely reached.
When she pulled her hand from his, he wanted to frown, until he realized their stopping meant she’d reached her destination. She obviously wanted him to climb up into what reminded him of a barber’s chair. This one, however, was a rich plum leather. And was minus a footrest.
“Have a seat,” Skye said in a tone that was as much a dare as anything. He wondered about the challenge. “And take off your shoes.”
He was wearing low-top brown leather Doc Martens and wasn’t exactly thrilled about the weird vulnerability of baring his feet. But he supposed she was used to rough skin and calluses and, at this point, he was good with giving her anything she wanted.
He unlaced his Doc’s, pulled them off; Skye set them on a ledge attached to her station, gesturing with a “gimme” motion for him to hand over his socks.
While he pulled them off, she moved to straddle the low stool in front of him and turned on the jets of water, filling the basin as he rolled up his pants legs.
“Hmm. You don’t seem the chocolate and strawberry type. Or the rosehips and basil type.” She shuffled through potions and concoctions, placing a small pizza-shaped stone in the basin before choosing a mixture of poisons she liked. “Sandalwood and balsam. Nature’s scents.”
“The favorites of campers everywhere,” he said, and swore she considered splashing him in the face.
And then she did the most amazing thing. Eyes closed, she submerged her hands in the water and took hold of the stone, almost as if she were meditating or communing with an otherworldly power.
How he came up with that bizarre conclusion, he had no idea, except for the expression on her face that sorta scared him. In the next second, however, it was gone, and she was smiling up at him, an imp, mischievous yet sexy as hell.
Oh, yeah, he was in trouble.
He lowered both feet into the perfectly warmed water, a sizzle of bubbles tingling as he rested his soles on the stone. Admitting she was right and the scents were those of a night spent in his tent beneath the stars and towering trees, he closed his eyes and leaned back.
The headrest pillowed him softly; he sank into the plush comfort of the chair and did his best to pretend it wasn’t the woman of his fantasies wrapping her hands around his foot. An effort that lasted about ten seconds because he wanted this from her and from no one else.
Her fingers worked in circles on his sole, the heels of her palms pressed the tired top and sides of his foot. Her strength amazed him, her deftness, the way she knew exactly where and how the massage would take him apart.
Coming undone wasn’t even the half of it. Slumping further into the chair, he groaned because he couldn’t help it.
“You like?” she asked in a voice he barely heard there in la-la land.
“Oh, yeah. I like.” He continued to like as she moved from foot to foot, from heel to toes, even kneading the muscles in his calves, his Achilles tendons, the end-of-day aching balls of his feet.
He knew this was her work, not a seduction, but he couldn’t get beyond the fact that she was the one administering this tender attention, this relaxing and mindless caress.
Hell, who was he kidding? It was erotic beyond belief because of the fact that it was Skye Deveaux showing him heaven.
Yeah, he could see taking her to bed and returning this incredible favor. Her feet had to be as petite as the rest of her, and finding her pressure points, giving her this same pleasure...oh, yeah. He was there. He was right there, rubbing, searching out the touch that would make her sigh before making her sweat.
He swore he heard her chuckle and then her sharp intake of breath, but he was gone, gone, gone and couldn’t open his eyes to see.
Seconds later, Skye paced the short length of the employee locker room, rubbing at her temples in a soothing effort that was doing nothing to ease the thunder of voices in her head.
Correction. The voice, period. One voice. Nic’s voice. And more than that. An awareness of his feelings. The sensation of pure pleasure he felt at her touch.
What was going on?
He wanted her, yes. But he wanted to give, not to take. He wanted to share. To offer her the same bliss she had given him, and she didn’t know how to respond. Not mentally. Not emotionally.
But physically? Oh, responding was no problem. Except that it was. A bigger problem than the one that had driven her out of his van that night six months before.
Because now she wanted him. And wanted him in ways she hadn’t known she could want a man. Ways that were not soft and sweet. Not tender. Or gentle. But ways that were firecracker hot and bad to her every last bone.
She let out a long mournful belly-deep moan.
She leaned her head back against the wall between the door and the lockers and closed her eyes, listening as Nic drew closer.
Her heart beat so hard in her chest, she knew he’d be able to see the throb of her pulse in her throat. She wanted him to see it; she didn’t want him to see it.
She wasn’t supposed to be able to read his thoughts. Maybe she hadn’t. Maybe she’d done nothing more than imagine what he’d been thinking. Maybe she’d been projecting her desperate desire to find a man who wanted more from her than her body.
Right now, she didn’t know what was happening or why. She didn’t even care. All that mattered was satisfying the ache that seemed to reach all the way to her soul.
“There you are,” he said, his concern evident.
She opened her eyes and stared into his, listening, searching, seeing warm spring days and bare skin in sunshine, and hearing...nothing, dammit, not a single blessed thing.
“I don’t get it,” she whispered, though more to herself than to him.
He braced a hand on the door jamb above her head, looked down at her with the same sort of confusion she felt - and with an even more piercing desire. “What don’t you get?”
“It’s...nothing.” How was she supposed to explain what had just happened in words that would make any sort of sense to him? “I thought I heard...the phone. That it might be Maeve calling back.”
He nodded. Obviously she was making some sort of sense. But he didn’t move. And he didn’t suggest she try the call again.
What he did was reach up with his free hand and place the pad of his thumb in the dip of her throat. “Your pulse is elevated.”
“Exertion. Running for the phone.” Lame, lame, lame.
He nodded again. “Your pupils are dilated.”
She shrugged weakly. “The light in here’s not as bright as it is in the main salon.”
He didn’t even bother to glance over their heads at the fluorescent bulbs shining down like the noonday sun. “Your skin is flushed.”
“It’s the...steam. From the water.” She was not going to survive this. She was not. She was not.
“I don’t think so, Skye.” His thumb moved to the edge of her tank’s scooped neckline. His eyes flashed like sunshine on bright green leaves. The tic of his pulse at his temple told the tale of his self-control. “I was there. The water wasn’t close to being this hot.”
“What hot?” Breathe, Skye. Breathe.
“This hot,” he repeated and drew the tips of his fingers along the ribbed border of the pink fabric from shoulder seam to shoulder seam.
She steeled her spine against the shiver threatening to rob her of her ability to stand. Her chest heaved, and Nic began to smile. “Oh. My tank.”
“Not your tank.” He moved a step closer. His beard, dark and heavy, shaded his jaw; she longed to cup her hand to his cheek. “Your skin.”
He was so close now that it would take no more than for her to lean forward and her lips would be there, on his neck, where he’d left the top button of his polo shirt undone. She wanted to taste him...to know his heat, his texture, his scent. Her tongue flicked out, bathing her bottom lip.
He shifted, bracing his forearms on the wall on either side of her head. His chest heaved with his ragged breathing; her breasts grew taut in response. Yet he waited, hesitated, kept his distance and gave her the choice - slip away from his body or pull him closer into the kiss she longed for.
It was a simple choice to make.
She leaned forward the barest breath of space it took for contact and kissed him there, right there, beneath the swell of his Adam’s apple where his own pulse raced.
His skin was so incredibly warm and salty sweet, and he smelled of the great outdoors as she’d always known that he would. He smelled of more, however. Of all things safe and familiar. As if this was where she belonged. Like home.
He kept his arms where they were, though she sensed the tension that kept him in check. And so she slid her lips higher to the soft skin of his neck, standing on tiptoes to nibble her way to his ear.
The bristle along his jaw was softer than she’d expected to find as she made her way to his cheek, her own breath now coming in short gasps, her nipples hardening, her panties growing damp.
It was when she moved her restless hands to his waist that his control finally slid to the floor. He stepped into her body, pressing her fully to the wall. His lips hovered near hers, then moved over her cheekbone, barely grazing her skin with a contradiction of softness and stubble.
“Is this what you really want?”
He was hard. He was heavy. He was wildly breathless. She felt small, at his complete mercy, yet so clearly unafraid. Her nerves had coiled into one big ache that was his, and no other man’s, to cure.
She pulled away, looked into his eyes and put everything she was on the line to say, “I want you, Nic. Only you.”
She tasted like hot-pink sex.
He couldn’t think of any other way to describe what went through him at the first seeking touch of her mouth. Her lips opened. Her tongue reached for his. Nic swore he was going to die.
Either that or he was going to come where he stood.
Skye’s hands were greedy, tugging his shirt from his pants, roaming beneath the fabric over his skin. Moans and whimpers and sighs spilled from her mouth. He caught every one and groaned back.
A tiny chivalrous cell of gray matter urged him to stop, to test how sure she really was, to be certain she would have no regrets. But his other head was totally into camping.
He cupped both hands to her bottom, baited his hook and reeled her in.
His erection settled firmly in the soft give of her belly. She gasped, grabbed his belt loops and pulled him nearer still, wiggling, shimmying, teasing with tiny nips of her teeth as she trailed kisses down his neck.
He took full advantage of her short skirt, working the denim up and over her bottom a handful at a time. When the room’s cool air hit her exposed skin, she laughed without ever moving her mouth.
At least until she made it clear by tugging on the fabric that his shirt was in her way - a problem he was quick to help her resolve, ripping it off and over his head and tossing it to the floor. But then she stopped kissing him, and for half a second he feared he had moved too fast.
In the next half, however, she allayed his fears with a smile that grabbed his gut and twisted it.
“You are an amazingly gorgeous man, Nicolas Kane.” She took a huge gulp of breath. “And I’m quite more than a little bit worried that you might be more than I can handle.”
“If this is about the size of my briquettes -”
She cut him off with a quick and searing kiss. And then with a chuckle. “No. That I can handle. I’m just afraid you will find me a rather...tame and unchallenging wilderness.”
God, but he was crazy about this woman. Crazy because of this woman. He had never looked so forward to getting naked as he did here and now in this moment with Skye.
He caressed the line of her cheekbone with his thumb, lifted her chin and kissed her softly, thoroughly, telling her without words that she had nothing to fear.
Her sigh was one of surrender, and he pressed harder with sweeping strokes of his tongue. And then she reached for the hem of her tank top and shucked the shirt over her head.
He wanted to take his time baring her body, tasting her skin as he removed her clothes. He didn’t want to rush; he wanted to savor her for hours. He longed to kindle this fire slowly, but Skye had already reached a fever pitch.
When she reached behind her for the clasp of her bra, he reached as well, trapping both of her wrists in one hand. She frowned, then opened her mouth, no doubt to complain.
He stopped her with his tongue, leaning forward to dip into the valley of her cleavage, to dampen the swell of one breast then the other, wetting the thin lace trim of her bra before boldly sucking her into his mouth.
She cried out sharply, and he plied his attention equally, straight through the fabric until she fairly squirmed to break free from his hold. He released her to make quick work of her bra before returning to feast on the gorgeous cherry-tipped breasts she’d bared.
She grew manic, toeing off her shoes, unzipping her skirt and shoving it to the floor, her eyes wide and glassy with arousal as she stood there in a thong that might as well have been nothing; he could plainly see the swollen knot and plump lips of her desire beneath.
He stopped her fingers on the button fly of his jeans, reading panic in her expression and a return of her fear. “Skye, listen to me. I didn’t come here for this. I want you to tell me you know I didn’t come here for this.”
She frowned. “Of course I know that. You came here to update the billing software.”
“It’s not that I don’t want this.” Sweat broke out on his temples. “I want this like you can’t believe.” She was naked and waiting; she had to feel the same way. “But after that night in the van -”
“Shh.” She pressed her fingertips to his lips. “This is perfect, Nic. I can’t imagine anything more so. That night in the van I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know if I could trust what was happening.”
“Trust me, you mean,” he said, his voice gruff with regret.
“I judged you wrongly. On past experience.” She cupped his face gently. “I didn’t give you a chance to be you.”
A wicked smile played over his mouth. “I can be me now. As long as you’re sure.”
Her laugh was bad in such a very good way. “Oh, yeah. I’m sure.”
This time when she reached for his fly, he helped, getting out of his jeans and boxers in record time. Her wide eyes and her appreciative “Oh, my” had him grinning. Then she had him sucking in a world of breath as she took him in her hand.
When she kneeled and took him in her mouth, he shuddered, and it was less than a minute later that he pulled her to her feet.
“You keep that up, I’m not going to be of much use to you.”
“What a silly thing to say.” She snuggled up to his chest, kissing his skin with her mouth and her tongue, pressing her palms against his pecs until he groaned. “I like you like this. And I’ll get what’s mine eventually.”
Or better yet, now, he decided when his erection took on a mind of its own, bobbing and searching out the space between her thighs. “I’m not going to take you up against a wall. Think we can take this party to the sofa?”
She peeked around his shoulder toward the plush sectional on the far wall, then scrambled away with a giggled “Race you.”
He let her beat him but only by eight inches or so. And then she was flat on her back and watching him fight the condom he’d snagged from his wallet. He almost flubbed the whole process, what with the intensity of her gaze.
Sitting up halfway, she took over, rolling on the thin barrier with quite the practiced hand. “You start one mean campfire. I’ll give you that.”
“Why, thank you, kind camping guide,” she replied before her tongue dipped below his straining erection to tease the seam of his balls.
He backed away and she lowered herself to her elbows, watching as he kissed a line down her sweet belly to her sex, which glistened like the very peach he was starving for. He separated her folds with the tip of his tongue, and she whimpered, opening her legs even wider.
He couldn’t get enough of her taste, her scent, the warmth of her body, her response to his touch. Neither could he resist her demands that he climb up her body and settle between her spread thighs.
She reached down to guide him, though he knew his way well, and she held tight to his gaze during his entry, panting, blowing, groaning from the back of her throat as he hit bottom.
He lay there for several long moments, throbbing, enjoying her squirming insistence that he move as she moved, running her palms up and down his spine, digging her heels to his thighs, driving her hips upward until collapsing in frustration.
“You’re making me crazy, you know.”
“The very point of this exercise.”
“I thought this was about having fun.”
“Crazy isn’t fun?” he asked, shifting his hips.
She moaned. “Oh, but that’s fun.”
“Good. I want you to have a good time.”
Her eyes dampened at that. “Oh, Nic. How could I have anything but? It’s like I’ve been waiting for you for so long.”
“And it’s all the better for the wait.” Or so it was for him.
He began to move then, and Skye matched his every stroke with a thrust that took him apart. He swore he was being devoured, and responded in kind. Sweat slicked their skin. His fingers roamed between their bodies. Hers played all over his, and the intensity of their joining grew furious.
He wanted to stop, to wait for her, to make sure she was with him all the way. He needn’t have worried. Back arched, head back, she cried out her release, and he followed, spilling himself in a draining rush until he lay there, spent.
And then he wondered what he was going to do when she came to her senses, got dressed and told him to go.
“It has to be the stone. It makes perfect sense. It’s the only thing that makes sense. How incredibly dense have I been?”
Though she hated the idea of moving from where she lay draped halfway on top of Nic’s body, halfway on the locker room’s sofa, Skye pushed herself up onto her elbows and braced her weight on his chest.
His chest that was oh, so warm and broad, and such a perfect fit for her body. The dark hair that swirled between his pecs was silky soft, as was the line that ran down the center of his torso to his very hard and flat abs. The hair that cushioned his now softened sex was coarser, she’d learned, when she’d explored his, uh, briquettes so thoroughly.
She’d never known there was so much fun to be had between a man’s legs.
“What stone?” he asked, thankfully oblivious to her train of thought. He looked as if he needed a week’s worth of sleep to recover from the hours past.
“The massage stone. I’ve had it since...oh, since before I can remember. Which makes perfect sense when you think about it. I used to hide away in our basement when things at home got too, uh, loud. I had a little cubbyhole and I used the rock as a seat for my, uh...”
“Your what?” he mumbled, resting a heavy arm on her back when she made to get up.
“My Piglet, okay? Piglet. Now, hey, c’mon. We can’t stay here any longer.” She reached down to fondle him. “The fire’s died down. It’s time for all good campers to pack up.”
He opened one eye, arched one brow. “Thought you weren’t a big fan of camping.”
“Oh, I have definitely changed my mind, big boy.” He rolled both eyes at that. “Hey, it’s the truth. You outweigh me by more than a few pounds.”
“You’re a runt.”
“A lovable, mind-reading runt. Yes, I know. My cousins have teased me for years.”
This time he pushed up onto his elbows, dislodging her to sit between his legs. “Run that one by me again?”
She took a deep breath, wondering if he’d been paying attention. The truth would have to come out sooner or later. “I read minds, Nic. I have all my life. I know. It sounds weird and flaky. But it’s not. It’s true.”
He got a look in his eyes then that was more than a little bit unnerving. “You can read minds.”
She nodded. “It’s not just me. Well, the mind-reading part is just me. My cousins have other...gifts.”
“Rory controls the weather with her moods. Celeste is a medium. And Eve is able to move objects with her mind, even though she pretends she can’t. Our great-grandmother, Solange, was gifted as well.”
“It’s inherited then?” he asked, though he clearly didn’t believe a word she was saying.
And why should he? She certainly couldn’t prove herself to him...could she? She jumped to her feet, enjoying the thrill that rolled through her as his sleepy gaze and his sleepy erection both came to life at her nudity. “Come on.”
She picked up her tank and her thong, figuring it was the least she could do - though the look in his eyes said he would prefer she did a lot less. But he stepped into his boxers and followed her out into the main salon.
“Sit,” she said and gestured to the chair at her station. He climbed up wearing his disbelief as clearly as his boxers.
She took her own seat and glanced up into his eyes. “I have to be near the person I’m reading to pick up their thoughts.”
“What am I thinking, then?”
“That’s just it.” She tilted her head. “I’ve never been able to read you. Until earlier. When you were sitting here. That’s why I ran. You were thinking of pleasuring me, not about what you wanted.”
“And that surprised you?”
“That unselfishness sorta messed with my head, yeah. Especially coming on the heels of learning of your recent celibacy.”
He considered her cautiously, his gaze uncertain. “So, then, that night in the van?”
“I know. It’s crazy. It was because I had no idea what you were thinking that I went berserk when I saw the bed.” She took a huge breath, blew it out. “I haven’t had a lot of luck with men. And I judged you because of that.”
“And now?” He was sitting forward, his elbows on his knees, his steepled fingers flexing. “You’ve obviously changed your mind.”
She reached into the basin, lifting out the dark stone she was certain had once broken away from a whole. “Our family has a legacy revolving around a stone that was once shattered into four pieces, which were scattered or hidden so that they didn’t fall into the wrong hands. My cousins and I have each been charged with locating the sections and reassembling the circle. But it had to be the right time.... God, but this makes so much sense now.“
“And you think that stone’s your piece of the whole?”
At his voice, which no longer cynically questioned but queried with a tone of true curiosity, she glanced up. “It has to be. I took the stone with me when I left home. I remember my mother teasing me about it when she saw it packed up in my crazy chest with Piglet and all the other kid stuff I kept. She never really believed in my father’s family legend, she probably didn’t even know what it was. And anyway, the pieces were supposed to have been scattered across the globe. Who would have thought I had it the whole time?”
Nic arched a brow. “That all sounds pretty vague to me.”
“Yes, but I have proof now.” She looked up at him then, her hands holding tightly to the stone as she searched his face, his beautiful eyes, silently begging for him to believe. She needed him to believe. She was so tired of being alone. So very tired of the voices in her head meaning nothing. She wanted to hear only his. “I knew everything you were thinking when your feet were in the basin with the water and the stone.”
For a long silent moment, he did nothing but study her face. She wanted to ask what it was he was looking for, to tell him to lower his feet once more, enabling her to prove that she wasn’t insane. So when he reached for the stone, she hesitated but in the end she relented.
He took it in one hand, grabbed her wrist with his other. He set the stone carefully on the shelf of her station, his gaze daring her to climb up into his lap.
It was when he said, “I know what you’re thinking,” that she gave in, her knees straddling his thighs in the cushy chair.
He leaned back, taking her with him. She felt his erection stir between her legs, felt the beat of his heart in her palms pressed to his bare chest. “What am I thinking?”
“You want to put the stone back in the water.” His lashes drifted down, drifted up. “And you want me to put my feet back in, as well.”
“Well, duh.” She tried to laugh. It sounded like a croak. “That’s hardly rocket science.”
“It’s not magic either. It’s me knowing you and seeing how afraid you are to trust me.” He spread his legs so that she settled more intimately against him. “You want proof.”
She nodded, unable to speak for the lump of emotion in her throat. “It’s been so hard all these years. Hearing the lies in my head while the voices do nothing but sweet-talk. I’ve never liked men much. Until you.”
“Then trust me, Skye. You’ve learned enough of the truth through your hokey-pokey.” He threaded the fingers of one hand into her hair. “Give us a chance to make our own magic.”
She closed her eyes, lifted her chin, seeking the very truth he had asked her to find. And when his hand stroked her back lovingly, and he pulled her down for his kiss, she knew she’d found the only magic a woman could want.
That of a true man’s love.